Labor Day weekend is the unofficial start of Fall, which means tons of festivals. Santa-Cali-Gon Days celebrates the extended weekend with entertainment, local vendors, and live music. This multi-day event takes place on the square in historic Independence, Missouri. While limiting this list to just ten things is difficult, these are the most popular reasons that people pack the square each year.
#1 – Historic Characters
Santa-Cali-Gon Days celebrates the jumping off point for the Santa Fe, California, and Oregon Trails. In the 1800’s, pioneers would stock up at one of the stores in the region, before attempting their difficult journey West. During the festival, character actors replicate the people of that time, while dressed in period clothes. This year they expanded the area with re-enactors, and included extra booths. Besides the musicians, we saw kid’s crafts, quilting, and a blacksmith.
#2 – Vendors Galore
At an event this large, you can find just about everything being sold. Food vendors hawk burgers, brats, sandwiches, tacos, gyros, and just about every other kind of meal you could desire. For those with a sweet tooth, you will not be disappointed. Ice cream is served in a multitude of versions. Sweetened nuts, whips, smoothies, cake, pie, and cookies galore will be found. After you’ve satisfied your hunger it’s time to shop. Crafts of all types are found in various tents and booths. All sorts of artists are selling their creations. We always find block after block of vendors willing to haggle over that special something we never knew you needed.
#3 – Midway Games
Remember those days of your youth, when you wandered the Midway looking for a game to play. You knew if you found the right one you would win that big stuffed bear. Well, at Santa-Cali-Gon Days they have that same kind of Midway you remember. Barkers call out to the crowd, egging them to take their chances, and win big. Many of the games haven’t changed much over the past decade. Tossing various objects still seems to be a mainstay, but some of the newer games have taken skill out of play, and left winning to luck. Overall, the games are still quite popular with the younger crowd, just as they have been for years.
#4 – Carnival Rides
Santa-Cali-Gon Days have hosted a carnival for many years. The Ferris wheel seemed quite popular, as did the octopus-type ride. Scramblers, and other spinning rides seem to have constant lines of riders waiting their turn. There is a section of rides dedicated to the little ones, with miniature motorcycles, cars, and other objects to be ridden. Everyone seemed excited to ride, and as we walked through the area, we heard the squeals of delight coming from all directions.
#5 – Local Shops
With all of the vendor booths around, it is easy to overlook the actual storefronts beyond the sidewalks. That would be a shame, since there are some really fun shops on the square. Looking for a Scandinavian souvenir?You can probably find exactly what you are looking for. Need an upscale item to add to your den or man-cave, give Wild About Harry a shot. Kitchen supplies, various antique shops, books, home decor, and apparel are all available nearby. We always try to visit a few of these places during the festival, since they are the businesses that anchor the square, and allow for Santa-Cali-Gon Days to be so successful.
#6 – Adult Beverages
Not all of the buildings are filled with shops. There are a variety of restaurants and clubs also located on the square. Main Street Coffee does great business serving up lattes, cappuccinos, and other brew based drinks. Across the street is Top Hat Winery, where you can sample an assortment of wines and hard ciders. (You can read more about Top Hat here.>) Dotted around the square, we saw a few beer gardens. Another larger beer garden was organized at the main stage area on the East end of the square. There are plenty of options, but please drink responsibly.
#7 – Public Safety
For many years we have seen a completely different level of security applied to large venues. At Santa-Cali-Gon Days the local law enforcement take the approach of being proactive, instead of reactive. Officers wander the streets blending with the crowds, and interacting with visitors. In all of the years we have been going to the festival, we have never seen any major conflicts or issues. Thanks to all of the law enforcement for doing such a great job keeping the peace.
#8 – People Watching
Like many others, we find people watching to be a great spectator sport. (Yeah, that was a bad pun.) With so many activities drawing large crowds, Santa-Cali-Gon Days is a perfect opportunity to practice one of our favorite recreational activities. Tons of people pass by any corner, so even if you are wandering the square, you will still see throngs of people.
#9 – Local Entertainment
Filling the many slots of entertainment requires looking locally for performers. This gives lots of locals a chance to show off their skills in a venue that would be hard to recreate at any other time. Lots of these bands have their own following, and with a good performance they are sure to gain some new ones. We like that these bands are playing all evening, because it provides a nice break from all of the walking. It’s a good time to grab a drink, and find a chair for some relaxed entertainment.
#10 – Big Name Headliners
Each year the headliner is a nationally known talent. We have seen some great shows, and they are always free. This year the headliner was Blackberry Smoke. As the evening passed, the crowd grew in anticipation of the main feature. We worked our way to the front of the crowd (with some nice work by Crystal), and situated ourselves at the barrier in front of the stage. Soon the band took the stage, and the wait was over. The band rocked the night, as the crowd sang along with favorites. They played for a little over an hour, but too soon the concert wound down. With the memories of another great visit to Santa-Cali-Gon Days fresh on our minds, we made our way home. While we were a little sad to see it end, we know that we will have the opportunity to return again next year. Will we see you there?